Following Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election as Israeli prime minister earlier this month, the New York Times’ editorial board (4/11/19) wrote:
Under Mr. Netanyahu, Israel is on a trajectory to become what critics say will be an apartheid state like the former South Africa—a country in which Palestinians will eventually be a majority, but without the rights of citizens.
if Israel does not give up the territories, it will face a choice: relinquish either democracy or the ideal of a Jewish state. Granting Palestinians in the territories the right to vote would turn Israel into an Arab state with a Jewish minority. Not allowing them to vote would result in a form of permanent apartheid.
For almost 20 years, the paper has suggested that Israel/Palestine risks devolving into an apartheid state if it continues to rule over Palestinians in the territories—Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem—who cannot choose their rulers. This population includes approximately 4.75 million occupied Palestinians—320,000 in East Jerusalem, 2.8 million in the rest of the West Bank and 1.8 million in besieged Gaza—to say nothing of the millions of Palestinian refugees who cannot return to their homes and participate in elections because the people who put on those elections won’t let them.
That situation has remained the same, not only for the period that the Times has been publishing material saying the arrangement might someday add up to apartheid, but since 1967. Yet the Timespersists in characterizing Israeli apartheid as a hypothetical future development. The paper acknowledges that governing millions of Palestinians but denying them the vote is a form of apartheid, so there’s no justification for saying, after nearly 52 years of such disenfranchisement, that that will eventually constitute apartheid, but for some unspecified reason doesn’t yet at this point.
Tom Friedman’s Groundhog Day
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman appears to be having a Groundhog Day experience: He keeps waking up, looking at Israel’s ethnocracy, and saying that if it continues to be apartheid, it will become apartheid. In 2002 (10/16/02), he commented:
If you think it is hard to defend Israel on campus today, imagine doing it in 2010, when the colonial settlers have so locked Israel into the territories it can rule them only by apartheid-like policies.
2010 came and went, and the “apartheid-like” conditions remained, but Friedman persisted in treating Israeli apartheid as a mere possibility, writing (2/1/11) of the 2011 protests in Egypt:
If Israelis tell themselves that Egypt’s unrest proves why Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinian Authority, then they will be talking themselves into becoming an apartheid state — they will be talking themselves into permanently absorbing the West Bank and thereby laying the seeds for an Arab majority ruled by a Jewish minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
A year later (8/1/12), Friedman said:
It is in Israel’s overwhelming interest to test, test and have the US keep testing creative ideas for a two-state solution. That is what a real US friend would promise to do. Otherwise, Israel could be doomed to become a kind of apartheid South Africa.
Two years after that (2/11/14), Friedman said that “Israel by default could become some kind of apartheid-like state in permanent control over…2.5 million Palestinians.” Even in this so-called criticism of Israel, Friedman does the state a favor by acting as though the West Bank Palestinians are the only ones disenfranchised by Israel, overlooking the refugees and Gaza, even as Israel continues to control the latter. (He also appears to leave out Palestinian Jerusalemites.)
Evidence for Already-Existing Apartheid
As Friedman and his paper kept predicting that Israel/Palestine could turn into an apartheid entity, evidence mounted that it is exactly that. For example, United Nations special rapporteur John Dugard found in 2007 that “elements of the [Israeli] occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law.” He went on to say that at the checkpoints throughout the West Bank and surrounding Jerusalem,
a [Palestinian] person may be refused passage through a checkpoint for arguing with a soldier or explaining his documents…. Checkpoints and the poor quality of secondary roads Palestinians are obliged to use, in order to leave the main roads free for settler use, result in journeys that previously took 10 to 20 minutes taking 2 to 3 hours…. In apartheid South Africa, a similar system [was] designed to restrict the free movement of blacks —the notorious “pass laws.”
Another UN special rapporteur, Richard Falk, noted in 2010 that “among the salient apartheid features of the Israeli occupation” are “discriminatory arrangements for movement in the West Bank and to and from Jerusalem,” as well as
extensive burdening of Palestinian movement, including checkpoints applying differential limitations on Palestinians and on Israeli settlers, and onerous permit and identification requirements imposed only on Palestinians.
A March 2017 report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”
That July, however, Friedman (7/12/17) continued to treat Israeli apartheid as something that might happen down the road, wishing that President Trump had admonished Netanyahu in a meeting between the two:
Bibi, you win every debate, but meanwhile every day the separation of Israel from the Palestinians grows less likely, putting Israel on a “slippery slope toward apartheid,” as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently warned.
Last September (9/19/18), Friedman was still worried about this supposedly theoretical scenario:
Without some dramatic advance, there is a real chance that whatever Palestinian governance exists will crumble, and Israel will have to take full responsibility for the health, education and welfare of the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel would then have to decide whether to govern the West Bank with one legal authority or two, which would mean Israel would be choosing between bi-nationalism and apartheid, both disasters for a Jewish democracy.
Netanyahu, Friedman went on to say, has failed to offer “any new, or old, ideas on how to separate from the Palestinians to avoid the terrible choices of bi-nationalism and apartheid.”
Setting aside the troubling assertion that Israelis and Palestinians living as equals would be not only a “disaster,” but as bad a “disaster” as apartheid, Friedman ignored the fact that just two months earlier, the Knesset had passed the Nation State Law that defined Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. The law asserted that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” even though 20 percent of the population living inside Israel is not Jewish; encouraged “the development of Jewish settlement” and vowed that the state will “promote its establishment and consolidation.” It declared that “the state’s language is Hebrew,” deprecating Arabic, the first language of roughly half the people under that state’s control.
The Nation State Law demonstrates that the bad faith, future tense descriptions of Israeli apartheid are overly narrow, in that they focus exclusively on the Palestinian territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. Yet on the Israeli-held side of the Green Line, Palestinians are systematically discriminated against.
It’s not only the occupation that make Israel/Palestine apartheid. It’s the Israeli state’s foundational principles and actions: driving two-thirds of the indigenous Palestinian population from their homes at its birth, subsequently making more than 2 million of them refugees, and then denying their right to return, despite its being mandated under international law.
Meanwhile, Jewish people anywhere on Earth are given the right to immigrate, because Israeli leaders want to maintain a demographic advantage. They pursue this goal—with decisive help from their sponsors in Washington—through their longstanding operational policy mantra: maximum land, minimum Arabs.
Not even three full days after the New York Times’ most recent brooding about how Israel might “become” an apartheid state, Israel’s Supreme Court approved the demolition of 500 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. Is it apartheid yet?